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Summer 2014
Sky Report: Primary Schools
by Dr. Bob Doyle, Portable Planetarium Teacher

Resources for Primary School Teachers

Summer (Jul. - Sep.) 2014 Primary School Sky Basics

On a clear night, ½ of the universe is visible from your backyard! The night sky appears dark because space is mostly empty and the universe is expanding (growing in size). The night stars are distant suns that are much, much further away than our sun, our home star. The closest heavenly body to us is our moon, which goes around the Earth about every 4 weeks. With our eyes, we can see grey patches on the moon, which are huge lava plains that hardened and cooled in the moon's early history. As the moon orbits Earth, it is lit up by the sun. The moon has a day side and a night side, just like our Earth. When the moon appears skinny, we are mainly seeing its night or dark side. When the moon appears full or nearly full, we are viewing most of the moon's day side. The nearest planets appear as bright, steady points of light. Mercury and Venus with their small orbits, always appear close to the sun, either in the eastern dawn or western dusk. The three outer planets that may be seen at any time of the night are Mars, Jupiter and Saturn.

At most about 1,000 stars can be seen on a dark, moonless night. These stars are close by neighbors to our sun within our vast galaxy that has many more stars than the billions of people alive on Earth.

Summer 2014 Skies (July, August & September) for Primary Grades

The summer evening skies don't feature a bright planet easily noticed. In the summer morning sky, the bright planet Jupiter can be seen as dawn begins to spread its rays across the sky, turning night into day. At the end of the year, Jupiter will creep into the eastern evening sky. The planet Venus can be glimpsed during the holidays low in the western dusk. The planet Mars lingers in the western evening sky, becoming dimmer as summer turn into fall. The planet Saturn is can be seen through the summer months, passing Mars in early September and then plunging out of view as the fall foliage reaches its peak. There are two very bright evening stars seen through the summer months. To find Arcturus, locate the BigDipper in the North or to the right of West. It's handle is higher and the bowl is below. Follow the curve of the Big Dipper outward and in one Dipper length, you'll come to Arcturus, a bright golden star. At the start of summer, Arcturus is nearly overhead. With each month, Arcturus drops lower. By the end of summer, Arcturus is rather low in the western sky. This change is due to our motion about the sun, causing the sun to drift eastward; this causes the western evening groups to slowly be swallowed in the sun's glare. The other bright star is Vega in the East, the brightest star in the Summer Triangle. Vega shines with a twinkling white-blue light. As the summer months pass, Vega gets higher, being nearly overhead at dusk in early September.

The sky at dawn features the bright planet Jupiter. Jupiter is first seen in August, low in the eastern dawn. During the fall months, Jupiter climbs higher in the sky at dawn. By November, Jupiter will be rising in the middle of the night.

During the 2014 summer months, the evening moon is half full on July 6th, August 4th and September 2nd growing to full about a week later. The half full moon offers the best views of the moon's craters through binoculars held steadily or a telescope. The full moon rises at sunset and shines all through the night. The full moon offers the best views of the moon's dark lava plains. As we approach the start of fall, full moons have a higher path across the sky than the low hanging full moons of May and June. At the start of each 2014 summer months, a skinny crescent moon can first be seen low in the western dusk. The evening ½ full moon appears close to Mars on July 5th and Saturn on July 6th. In early August, the evening ½ full moon appears close to both Mars and Saturn on the 2nd and 3rd of the month. By the end of August, the moon again can be seen near Mars and Saturn.

Our new technology building (the CCIT) will be opening for fall classes in late August. The building has a Multi-Media Learning Center, a tilted room with 80 seats. In the center of the MLC is a digital planetarium. Our Sunday programs will resume on September 7th with two shows at 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. Our programs in September is "Dark of the Moon", to alert us of the coming lunar eclipse on October 8th. The programs held are each Sunday through the month of September.

For additional information, contact:

Dr. Robert Doyle, Planetarium Director
Frostburg State University
Department of Physics and Engineering
101 Braddock Road
Frostburg, MD 21532-1099
(301) 687-4270






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